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What happens in Vegas might do wonders for NU basketball’s profile

Northwestern coach Chris Collins yells instructihis team during first half an NCAA college basketball game against Gardner-Webb Monday Nov. 25

Northwestern coach Chris Collins yells instruction to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Gardner-Webb on Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, in Evanston, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Updated: December 30, 2013 12:14PM



LAS VEGAS — When Northwestern has played nonconference ‘‘patsies’’ this season, coach Chris Collins has refuted the notion that games against those teams are somehow meaningless.

While there’s no reason not to believe him, Collins will have a hard time arguing that games against Missouri on Thursday and No. 19 UCLA on Friday in the Las Vegas Invitational aren’t the biggest of his short tenure with the Wildcats.

‘‘When you look at the schedule and . . . see you have an opportunity to play teams like Missouri and UCLA, it gets you excited,’’ Collins said. ‘‘Those are the kind of games you want to play in, and those are the situations you want to be in. I think for us, especially early in the year, it gives us a chance to kind of see where we’re at against two of the best.’’

After Collins was hired, the buzz around the program was so high that he was able to get impact high school players Vic Law, Bryant McIntosh, Scott Lindsey and Gavin Skelly to commit to NU just a few months into his tenure.

Collins has proved himself to be enthusiastic off the court. But now that the Wildcats have taken the floor under Collins, recruits are paying attention to where the program is trending on it.

And even though none of those recruits has arrived on campus, the benefits of beating Missouri and/or UCLA could help Collins build NU into a winner in the long term.

A source told the Sun-Times that Wildcats assistant Brian James was at the Ron Johnson Thanksgiving Tournament at St. Charles East on Tuesday to watch Plainfield East’s Aaron Jordan and St. Joseph’s
Jordan Ash. Both are considered high-major prospects and have been offered scholarships by NU. The source said both are priority targets for the 2015 recruting class.

Local players such as Jordan and Ash will be paying attention to the program during Big Ten play. And, of course, playing in the best conference in college basketball provides the Wildcats with plenty of opportunities to play high-caliber teams.

But the focus of those around the country will start Thursday against Missouri.

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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